Misfits Workshop (●)

A data driven air filtration system. Air pollution is one of the biggest global environmental and health challenges and a global action plan is needed. In response, the Aerolis project is an air purifying biological artwork for urban and industrial environments that mimics the natural air purifying functionality of tree bark. The 3D structure is based on algorithmic design, incorporating data on wind velocities and directions and grows in harmony with its surroundings. Its surface is biofunctionalized with tailor-made microorganisms that break down air pollutants in urban and industrial environments.

The Aerolis Project will take part in the 2018 Biodesign Challenge, held on the 21st and 22nd of June at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

made in collaboration with:
Rana Abudayyeh and her students @ The College of Architecture and Design - University of Tennessee

workshop result_01


Aerolis started out as a concept to play a role in air purification. While thinking of ideas to implement an air filtration unit that could create a local bubble of clean air, the project ended up as a biofunctionalized organic design that is based on wind data and exhibits a scalable character. Instead of being installed in a private context and functioning very locally, Aerolis could also be envisioned as an organic form surrounding cities or parks, uniquely designed in accordance with the local climate and harboring biological air filtration technologies to act upon air pollution.


In order to transform the 3D shape to a real air purifying device we used biotechnology and synthetic biology techniques. Our shape will be 3D printed in an innovative filament that allows us to bind specialized microorganisms which can purify air. The project's primary focus is to enable air purification by degradation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a common component of exhaust gases harmful for human health. Being able to functionalize 3D printed shapes with biologicals has an abundance of potential applications.

We decided to use a biotin-streptavidin interaction to functionalize the 3D printed shape with these (improved) VOC-degrading microorganisms. The interaction between streptavidin and biotin is one of the strongest non-covalent interactions in Nature. Biotin-streptavidin interaction is a widely used tool and a paradigm for protein–ligand interactions. To facilitate the work that needs to be done for biofunctionalization, we divided the work into two different work packages: 'Biofunction' and 'Filament'. 'Biofunction' is a work package dedicated entirely to engineering the right bacteria for our project. As we need biotin in our shape to connect our engineered bacteria to our air purifying device, the work package 'Filament' works on creating another type of PLA bioplastic impregnated with biotin.

We rounded up the tech part with the development of an air quality sensor with the aim of measuring, reporting and visualizing the air quality in and around the Aerolis structure. On the long term, this sensor could eventually be replaced by a biosensor consisting of pollutant-detecting microorganisms.


Aerolis is a design which on one hand hosts a biofilter and on the other hand allows it to integrate in an urban context. The effectiveness of a biofilter depends on the air flow and its surface area. These parameters formed a basis for the shape design: Aerolis is a structure that grows towards the dominant wind profile in a certain point in space. The shape originates from a simulation that aggregates three-dimensional wind data as vectors in a Cartesian coordinate system and the model grows in discrete steps along the vertical z-axis.

The simulation starts on the ground level with a circular base form, consisting of a finite series of points. This 'old' base layer is used to calculate the next layer. By deforming the old layer in the direction of the strongest wind vectors present at the new level, a new layer is composed. Vertical growth is realized by adding this new layer upon the previous layer. A recursive implementation of this algorithm eventually results in the shape of Aerolis.

From this, it is clear that the exact shape is strongly dependent on the wind profile of its surroundings. In this way, every Aerolis structure is different for another location. The prototype designed for the Biodesign Challenge project has grown on wind data from the city of Los Angeles (Global Forecast System / National Centers for Environmental Prediction / National Weather Service / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Other simulations have been performed for Ghent, New York, Istanbul, Seoul, etc. In theory, every location can have their own Aerolis provided there are sufficient wind data to run the simulation. This interesting feature about the design is an asset with regard to the integration of the structure in a specific location, e.g. around the city or in an open public space. Every city can identify with its own structure and embrace it as a part of their city identity.

A last aspect of the Aerolis shape is its internal structure. Air purification will occur via an upward air flow, so using a hollow body would cause a significant loss of purification potential, since the air will not be resisted and thus will flow straight out on the top side of the Aerolis structure. To counter this, we have decided to optimize the surface area by filling up the entire construction with a spongeous/foamlike pattern that enables the air to move through in a vertical direction, but still delivers enough resistance to give Aerolis the time to purify the passing air.

Iteration 0-13
Iteration 14-26
Iteration 0-13
Iteration 27-39
Iteration 40-52
Iteration 53-65
Iteration 66-78


It is necessary that the technology present in the Aerolis structure functions well to get a desired result in terms of air purification. Important parameters for this are air flow and a decent surface contact time. After collecting and consulting information on the functioning of biofilter and other technologies, we found that an unforced air stream would not pass through the structure efficiently enough for VOC removal. The team had an interesting talk with a professional bio-engineer working in the sector of air and odour pollution. He taught us about vertical biofilter installations and the need for additional pressure for the air to sufficiently pass through the structure so it does not just glance off the walls.

This challenge brought us to a concrete application of the Aerolis structure in an urban environment. For this, we focus on a case in our hometown Ghent, but it is applicable in all kinds of modern cities. One of the city’s main squares, the Vrijdagmarkt, has an underground parking lot. In a parking lot, many cars pass and they accelerate and decelerate multiple times. It is known that an engine produces most VOCs, particulate matter and other pollutants at these moments. Therefore, the parking lot is vented and air is circulated underground. The replaced air leaves the parking lot via ventilation shafts giving out on the square itself. This is illustrated in the image of the Vrijdagmarkt below.

These shafts emit a strong air stream with a pressure higher than the atmospheric pressure. Also, it is air that might have a somewhat higher concentration of pollutants (coming from cars) than average city air. To further support this idea, we qualitatively measured the outgoing parking lot gases on ground level with the sensor we constructed during this project. Without having a quantitative result, this measurement might give an indication of the pollutant load of the air from these shafts. And indeed, the result was slightly more negative when compared to the measurement on another square in Ghent, away from such ventilation shaft.

As a result from this, we propose this specific case as a short-term application of Aerolis in a city environment: the air stream is under higher pressure, making sure it will pass vertically through the structure, and the pollutant concentration might be a little higher than already mixed city air, allowing a higher removal and better conditions for the VOC-removing microorganisms present on the structure. Also, in this case of the Vrijdagmarkt, the design can be fully integrated in the image of a city and it can be accessible for the people living in the city. Of course, underground parking lots are not exclusive in Ghent as they occur in most cities, so this idea can be extended to other locations as well, with other Aerolis shapes.

Human Impact

Aerolis will act as a biofilter and purify the surrounding air, so it will create a local oasis of pure air. The “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” reports that for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter increase of PM10 in the air a person will lose seven months of their life expectancy. For the even smaller PM2.5, an identical increase steals an entire year off your life (read more about air pollution here). This reduced life expectancy was mapped for Europe, where for densely populated areas such as Flanders and The Netherlands, a reduction of about 3 years is predicted. Aerolis will try to give these currently lost years back to the people in these busy and polluted parts of the world. Also, it cannot be ignored that air pollution affects the flora and fauna of our world. Aerolis could help alleviate this stress.

Apart from being a functional biofilter and a wonderful design, Aerolis could also become a cultural landmark in the city. Aerolis is designed to create a local oasis of clean air and is not capable to clean an entire city, but it can still be a stimulus to produce less pollution in the city by motivating people to keep the air clean, with the aid of for instance a fluorescence function, an intense green glow could indicate low pollution. In the end the people together with Aerolis would be capable of cleaning an entire city.

By visualizing the improved local air quality, Aerolis might also be a tool to create a more widespread awareness of the air pollution. In this manner, the visual reward of reducing air pollution might be a social incentive for people to reduce their air pollution footprint. Additionally, the cleaner image and the creation of a sense of community in these urban spaces might attract more citizens, as a solution to current vacancy problems in the cities. In the end, this could all lead to more attractive cities where people actually want to live. The motivation and sense of unity among the citizens can also create a healthier place for the frame of mind, which benefits again everyone, also the people outside the functional cleaning perimeter of Aerolis. The impact of the design would, as illustrated multiple times, in this way reach out farther than its purifying bubble.

Of course, the construction and maintenance of these “living” structures needs to be taken into account as well. Aerolis could be financed by the city council and the people living in it. In fact, in Flanders for large-scale building or renovation projects there is a fraction of the estimated budget that needs to be reserved for the integration of art. A large-scale functionalized Aerolis might prove to be an attractive alternative to meet these requirements and to integrate the biofilter structure into the city’s appearance. Aerolis is not just meant to be for one single person, it is a piece of art that is uniquely formed by its environment and this concept on its own must have the opportunity to be admired by the local people, citizens, tourists and the world.

In general, Aerolis can become very multifunctional, as outlined above, and aid towards a healthier life for people in polluted areas like cities, industrial zones, etc. In terms of ethics and culture it is easy to see where it fits in. It ensures healthy lives and wellbeing for everyone in the city, it helps revive the urban spaces where it is installed and makes it safer, more sustainable and creates a sense of unity among the people who live there. It could also fight the vacancy of buildings. It may even motivate and promote the whole world to get on the road to a more sustainable future. It helps to fight global problems such as air pollution and the related climate change, but potentially also water scarcity and many more. In the end Aerolis can benefit the life on land and indirectly it can ameliorate the life in the fresh water, seas and oceans.

Depht pass
Occlusion pass
Diffuse color pass
Final render
workshop result_02
© Joris Putteneers 2021
current project: Misfits
project collaborators: Rana Abudayyeh and her students
project year: 2021